3k ShootoutWith just 400 runners, I knew that more than likely this event was going to be my best realistic chance of a bracelet this year, or at least a final table (conversely, with a tougher then average field and only 10% paid, it's the toughest to cash). Win two Sit n Gos and you make a final table; win a third and the bracelet is yours. I didn't have the softest of tables, featuring as it did Ant Zinno and Dominik Nitsche, but there was definite value in the form of three old school players whose indiscriminately aggro/stationy style might have been winning a decade ago but is easy to exploit these days. This one had a genuine slow deep structure early on, and this fact plus the one that I was out of position to both Zinno and Nitsche led me to think playing a bit tighter than normal was the way to go. This worked out very well: I lost most of the smaller pots but won all the big ones and chipped up steadily to triple starting stack with no major incident or cooler.
Once we got four handed I decided it was time to change gears and open up more. This wasn't immediately successful as the young guy who was by far the most aggro on the table and was now big blind to button peppered me with three bets. After a few raise folds and one light four bet that worked, I decided to limp the button because of his stack size and tendencies with 87o. This was my first limp so I also felt it might set off alarm bells and make it less likely to get played back at than a standard open, and it has enough post flop playability to not have to be automatically folded to any normal sized raise. It's also a nice hand to have in the limping range as it hits unexpected boards and in limped pots I can represent high card boards I haven't hit.
Anyway, Zinno completed his small blind and a suspicious looking big blind checked. Flop q56r, the big blind fires 900 into 2200, I call with my openender, and Zinno check raises to barely over the minimum. We both call getting great odds. A lovely nut making 9 on the turn and before I have time to start considering how to maximise value, Zinno overbet shoves. The other guy tanks an eternity before folding, and I find the call. Zinno has Q5o for top and bottom, and doesn't get there.
So now we are three handed and as I tweeted at the time, basically playing a well structured spin n go for $30k in equity. Myself and Goran, a Dublin based Croat who played flawlessly all day and was the player I least fancied to have to face headsup, were roughly equally with over 40% of the chips, with the most aggro player at the table significantly shorter. When he got it in a little optimistically with 8 high against Goran's top pair top kicker it meant I was headsup, but with a chip deficit against a player playing perfectly. Not exactly ideal, but unless there's a massive gulf in class (which I didn't feel there was) then the player who runs best headsup usually wins,so I was feeling stoked to be just a headsup battle away from my first cash this series (and a 4 man stt beyond that from a final table).
Unfortunately it was not to be. I got dealt a lot of junk against a player who wasn't making mistakes and wouldn't let me steal with garbage, and any time I made a good hand, it tended to be second best by the river. Aj v aq on a jack high flop and queen turn did some damage, and before I knew it I had less than 20 big blinds was running Nash calculations in my head. Still, I had a chance to get back into it when Goran shoved with T9s and I called 99, but the turn again was not my friend as it paired his ten. No miracle one outer on the river, and all I could do was congratulate my opponent on a flawless display. Had my 9's held I'd still have been outchipped over 2 to 1.
Monster stackThe following day I was back for the Monster Stack. Weekend WSOP fields in events with a buyin less than 3k tend to be very soft and filled with weekend warriors, So I wasn't paying much attention to the 9 stranger faces until we kicked off and I got a chance to see how everyone was playing. After a while I noticed my neighbour to the east, who I had initially just assumed was a typical somewhat portly middle aged weekend warrior, was playing s lot different and better than my initial attempts at profiling would suggest. After a visitor to the table mentioned the Limit FT I realised my neighbour was Original David Baker.
My two most interesting hands of the trip so far were against him.
Hand 1: it's folded to him in the small blind at 100/200 and he raises to 600. He was playing very loose in general, opening something like 40% of hands total, and he's obviously even wider in this spot. To my delight, I find aces, so I reraise to 1500. He calls
He checks, I cbet 40 % of pot, and he check raises unexpectedly. His sizing isn't huge and I obviously can't just give up on my aces just yet, so I call. At this point I assume he most likely had a made hand often better than mine, or a draw.
He bets just over half pot. If I call, we will both have just under pot behind going into the river, so it feels like I have to decide now whether my hand is good. I tanked looking but not expecting to get any physical indicator from him and didn't get much (he looked calm composed and comfortable). Although he was playing super aggro and barreling a lot this was the first time he had put in a lot of his stack postflop. I also considered my own image and figured he had no reason to think I'd fold Ace King in this spot, so no incentive to keep barreling unless he can beat ace king. And pretty much everything that beats ace king beats aces too, so I eventually folded feeling a little sad inside. If I had to pick his most likely hand, it would be qj.
Hand 2: he's just lost most of his stack in 2 instalments, both coolers. Folded to him in the cutoff, he opens to 700 at 150/300. With KQs on the button I elect to call for a number of reasons:
(1) my hand feels too weak to get in for 35 big blinds (his stack), so raise calling doesn't seem good
(2) my hand feels too strong to raise fold
(3) the suitedness adds a lot of playability to the hand, either headsup in position against a late position open, or multiway in position if one or both of the blinds decide to come along
(4) calling allows hands I dominate that will more than likely fold to a raise to continue
(5) by now I had seen enough hands to have a clearer idea of how ODB was playing post flop. One tendency that jumped out was a very high cbet frequency (almost 100%) and similarly high barreling frequencies on later streets. Cbetting almost every flop and continuing to barrel is a very effective strategy against many weaker players (particularly weak tight ones) but like any unbalanced strategy is easy to exploit (call down when you hit, bluff and semi bluff more when you don't)
Both blinds fold and the flop comes
ODB led for his standard half pot cbet and I obviously called. This is a pretty dreamy flop for me, as I nearly always have the best hand and there are no immediate draws to protect against.
Turn Td (second diamond)
ODB bet again, less than half pot this time. The board is now more draw heavy, but I didn't see this as a strong enough reason to raise. I'm trying to exploit a villain with a wider than GTO range (he still could almost have literally anything) who likes to keep barreling, so giving him the chance to keep doing so with his whole range seems like a better play than raising to protect against a small part of his range (draws that picked up equity on this turn card) that in any case don't have huge equity with just one card to come. So I called again.
This is obviously the absolute worst river card in the deck for me. Not only do all the draws come in (diamonds and qj) but now any old random Ax beats my hand. To make matters worse, he makes a small one third bet that looks exactly like a value bet trying to get a crying call from the exact hand I have. So even though the plan from the start was to call all the way down if I hit the flop, this is maybe the one river I have to think about folding. But while every draw and all the aces got there, my opponents range is so wide (it started close to any two and at least in my opinion hasn't narrowed much subsequently) there's still a lot I best. As I agonised it seemed to me ODB was a lot stiller and looked less relaxed than in my first tank against him. This of course adds zero certain information: even if my read on the physical behaviour is right (and it might not be: in my experience people often see what they want to see in these spots to justify the decision they want to make) all it tells me is it is different from last time. And since I didn't see his hand last time, I could just be getting it wrong twice (thinking he was strong the first time, and bluffing here). In the end, I felt the decision was close enough for this to tip it to the close your eyes and call column, so I prepared myself to look stupid when he showed any of the many hands that beat me and called.
He mucked without showing his hand.
Apart from ODB the rest of the table was relatively straightforward and I chipped up from 15k to 50k mostly without showdown and entirely without major confrontations, so I was feeling pretty smug about my prospects of pushing on with a very big chiplead over the table.
However, pride tends to precede a fall quite frequently in poker. A young guy got moved to our table with almost as many chips as I had. He was playing super wide preflop but relatively straightforward post flop (he was wearing sunglasses which I generally associate with post flop paranoia in inexperienced players) so I was by no means afraid to play pots against him. Anyway, he opens utg and the best player on the table (after the recent departure of ODB) calls. This makes my sixes on the button a very attractive call, so I did. Both blinds were very tight, as evidenced by the fact that both folded getting immense pot odds. If it seems odd that I mention their tightness since they folded pre, the point is that loose players play wider ranges from every position and stack size when there are weak tight players in the blinds.
The flop was
The original raiser checked, the good player in mid position bets big apparently committing himself (he's short enough to imagine there aren't many bet folds or bet once and give up in his range). I quickly call trying to make my hand look like a draw, figuring I'm getting in versus mid position guy no matter how I play it, so the important thing is to encourage the opener to continue with a wider range. The opener now check raises, mid position guy shoves and I over shove. The opener looks like his dog just died and he has to wear sunglasses to the funeral, and verbally agonises "how did I get myself into this awful position?" After counting down his stack he did the universal "Ah feck it I call" gesture and pushed his stack in.
He has kqo for top two, while mid position guy flipped over QJcc fot a pair and a flush draw.
Great spot for me to power past 100k at bb 300, or at least make a healthy profit from the much bigger main pot even if the flush came, but once again the turn (the case q) was not my friend. After the stacks were counted down I was left with a few big blinds. I waited a few hands before pushing them in with AQ, and chopped a threeway pot. Another double and I was one double away from a workable stack, but the green shoots of recovery were ripped up when my reshoved a9s ran into queens n the hands of late position opener raising close to any two.
So another bitterly disappointing early exit to end the first phase of my WSOP 2016 campaign.